Is Practicing Yoga Religious?

Practicing yoga is not a religion but it can be a religious experience.

Practicing Yoga is Designed to Work with All Religions

In researching the origins of yoga leads us to understand that it was created as a spiritual practice with the goal of achieving a “union with the absolute.”

But since the early 1960s in the US and other countries of the Western world, when yoga started to be practiced for health benefits, the lines have been blurred between the religious and physical aspects of this ancient mystic practice. And in the 1980s, Hatha yoga became exponentially popular in the United States, practiced in YMCAs, Christian churches, physical therapy clinics and nonreligious yoga-specific training centers.

The fact that yoga was first created as an Eastern form of thought and philosophy in no way detracts from the physical benefits it delivers. Many Western proponents of yoga will argue that it is not religious. And in the bestselling “Meditations from the Mat” the author claims that there is nothing in the ancient yoga texts that eliminates the practice by any particular religion.

As a how-to guide for right living with a goal of spiritual and physical conditioning, practicing yoga can benefit you regardless of your spiritual or religious beliefs.

Is Practicing Yoga Religious? It’s a Matter of Perception…

The difference is in your perception. In the Western world it is seen primarily as a physical exercise regimen. In the Eastern world yoga is regarded as a spiritual life practice.

But since the human mind and body benefit so wonderfully from the regular practice of yoga, it really doesn’t matter how you view this simple but powerful activity. Healthy weight loss, reduction of stress, improved concentration and memory and even a reduction in your risks of contracting heart disease are all healthy benefits that yoga delivers.

Then there are those yogis in the Western world, like David Life and Sharon Gannon, who have developed their own yoga methods. Their Jivamukti version is based on yoga as an adaptation of practical philosophy and not religion, according to its creators.

However, both Gannon and Life openly attest that yoga is definitely linked to Hinduism and philosophical schools which also include Vedanta, Samkhya, Jainism, and Buddhism. First beginning to appear in the Upanishads as early as 1,000 BC, yoga was without a doubt created as a more spiritual practice than a physical one.

And since the very tenets of this ancient spirit and health enhancement point to each individual’s path of development, there is not any simple religious or nonreligious adaptation that we can point to and identify as yoga. There are several schools of thought and practice, both religious and physical, which dictate different forms of yoga.

Kundalini focuses on strenuous exercise and deep breathing. Hatha postures and continual movement are the basis for Astanga yoga. And there are more yoga asanas, sequences and methods which focus on sexual energy, body sensation, mental enlightenment and other immediate goals.

There is no doubt that yoga has its origins in the ancient spiritual and religious Eastern world, but today’s yoga practitioners are as diverse in their religious beliefs as are the many forms of this beneficial mental and physical exercise.

What Is Yoga Anyway?

When asking what yoga is about, we explore the maeaning of the word.

So What’s Yoga all About Anyway?

Before answering this question, we have to look back at the origin of the word “yoga” itself. Thought to be a derivative of “yuj” from the ancient East Indian Sanskrit language, the root word translates to yoking – as in hitching a team of oxen to a yoke. Yoking further suggests a union of two animals connected together as one.

So in essence, it is the union, or connecting together, of the mind, body and spirit. But, how does yoga connect the two non-physical elements to the physical one? Generally this is done through a series of poses or postures, breathing and meditation; although some styles also include chanting and the reading of inspirational passages.

The Physical Side

Yoga develops strength, flexibility and stamina through its poses. If done in quick succession, as with Ashtanga, Bikran and Mosha, these poses can be a mild low-impact type of exercise that builds stamina. If done more slowly, as in the styles of Anusara, Iyengar and Viniyoga, the focus is on doing the pose correctly. Because most of the styles use the same poses or postures, which style you choose depends on what physical aspect you want to get out of the practice and in large part, how your instructor was trained.

The Mental/Spiritual Side

Yoga styles, such as Jivamukti and Kunalini include call and response chanting. Other styles may include mediation, a focus on breathing or the reading of inspirational passages called aphorisms. Many that practice yoga find the performance of poses first provides an easier transition to the meditation portion of the experience.

Yoga is non-competitive and highly personal, making it a good sport for those liking individual sports and wanting to get in touch with their self. It is a way to shut out the outside world and focus on just oneself; during your yoga practice, you are disconnected from the real world. No cell phones ringing, no distractions from people, no mind wandering and losing focus. It is all about just you.

Advice for Yoga Beginners

When first starting out practicing yoga, join a class first to learn the technique of the postures and whatever else that is part of that particular style. Also, do not be afraid to try other styles as the first one you choose may not provide what you are trying to get out of it. In this fast and connected world that we live in, making time for the introspection of oneself can be difficult; practicing yoga on a regular basis is one technique to get back in touch with yourself.